Song of Surrender

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

SRJ on Narayanagaula and Kannadagaula

By Siddhartha Jagannath
The Music Academy
22 December 2012

In his lecdem, Professor S.R. Janakiraman spoke on the ragas Narayanagoula and Kannadagoula. SRJ Mama as he is popularly known, started the lecdem by singing an invocation on Tyagaraja by the composer’s sishya.  After rendering another prayer dedicated to Muthuswami Dikshitar by Dr V Raghavan, SRJ wasted no time and delved right into the topic. Narayanagoula, he said, had not been mentioned by the Sangita Ratnakara of Sarangadeva or Venkatamakhin’s Chaturdandi Prakashika and is also not on of Annamacharya’s 108 ragas engraved on copperplates found in Tirupati. However it has been mentioned by Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarshini. Subbarama Dikshitar gives the lakshanas and lakshana slokas of the raga. Then he gives his own concise description of the raga. Mama then demonstrated the raga’s arohanam and avarohanam.  Surprisingly, it did not start with shadjam but with rishabham. SRJ said that it was not always necessary for the arohanam to start with shadjam. He also said that Veena Kuppaiyer’s Narayanagoula varnam which he demonstrated earlier had all the admissible prayogas of the raga and was like an encyclopedia on Narayanagoula.

After this introduction, Mama and his disciple Prasanna performed the Narayanagoula varnam in Ata talam. After that, Mama sang tanam in the tune of the varnam while Prasanna sang the original composition.  It was truly splendid.  He also mentioned the etymology behind the word tana: tanyati iti tana (allows elaboration). SRJ then sang Tyagaraja’s Kadale vadu in Narayanagoula, after a quick introduction.  He said that the song hovered around Ri, Ma, Dha, and Ni.  Next was Dikshitar’s Sree Ramam.  Here Mama made a very interesting statement.  He said that if Thyagaraja caught the raga, Dikshitar taught it.  In the Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarshini, Subbarama Dikshitar gives a Kaivara Prabandham in Narayanagoula.

Now Mama moved on to Kannadagoula.  He began by singing an alapana in swaras.  He also said that this raga should not be confused with Karnataka Devagandhari or Abheri.  He and Prasanna then demonstrated Sogasu juda tarama.  He sang it in the Rupaka tala that has only one laghu and drutam.  Later Ravikiran brought up the point that some songs do not sound correct if they are sung in this type of Rupaka tala and vice versa.  Then came the Nilotpalamba kriti of Dikshitar.  After this fantastic composition, SRJ mama concluded the lecdem.  

Stalwarts like SRJ have so many dimensions (Classical languages, Literature, History, Linguistics, Music) to them, it is hard to believe so much knowledge exists in just one single person.  I feel this was the best lecdem so far and was made even better and lighter with Mama’s hilarious jokes and comments.  The lecdem was thoroughly entertaining, thought provoking and educational.  

Schoolboy music student Siddhartha Jagannath is Sruti's youngest contributor.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Rare ragas, rare songs by a rare family

By Siddhartha Jagannathan
The Music Academy
20 December 2012

After Mr. David Claman’s talk, the nonagenarian Sangita Kalacharya MS Anantharaman, his two sons and their children gave an entertaining lecdem on rare Tyagaraja and Dikshitar kritis.  They started by defining the word ‘rare’.  A rare song for some may not be rare for others. They described their style, the Parur style that is almost 125 years old, founded by Sri Anantharaman’s father, the pioneering Parur Sundaram Iyer, a disciple of Veena Dhanammal.

It is from this Parur treasure trove that they gave samples to demonstrate rare kritis. They started the demonstration with a rare varnam in raga Desiya Todi.  It had plenty of gamakas and there was no use of panchama. The next piece was in raga Bhairavi set to Adi talam.  Sri MA Sundaresan said that this song had many prayogas without panchamam and shadjam. Sri Anantharaman added that the song started with the swaras Ri and Ma instead of the conventional Ri Ga Ma. The piece was truly exquisite and the intricate pathantara made it even more enjoyable. Next they rendered Tyagaraja’s Noremi Sri Rama in the raga Jhalavarali.   

Believe it or not, Sri Anantharaman actually sang the whole song in perfect sruti. Sri Sundaresan said that Tyagaraja composed in many vivadi ragas.  After this the group played Sri Bhargavi, a Dikshitar composition in the ancient raga Mangalakaishiki. This raga, said Sri Anantharaman, was almost a thousand years old. Following this, they played Tyagaraja’s Evarito in Manavati and Parimala in Hamirkalyani. They finished their lecdem with a bhajan in rag Desh which they dedicated to Pandit Ravi Shankar.

It was an extraordinary and unforgettable lecdem, especially considering the age of Sri Anantharaman. His ailing body did not put a dent on his musical spirit, which was large and full of enthusiasm. The family proved that the Parur bani is here to stay for many more generations to come.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Essentials of fusion

By Siddhartha Jagannath


The Music Academy
20 December 2012

Professor David Claman opened his lecture on “The Concept of Fusion Music with respect to Indian Classical Music” by greeting the audience with namaskaram, vanakkam and namaste. According to him, real fusion started when Jazz and Rock musicians collaborated and formed a new genre of music called ‘Jazz Rock Fusion’. He also mentioned the record West meets East by Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin, one of the first releases of fusion that combined Carnatic and Western styles of music.

Mr Claman began by looking at the Greek worldview that he described as the Margin and Center Paradigm, with the Greeks at the centre of a universe inhabited by barbarians. In the Separation-Reunion Paradigm, east and west were together many millennia ago, have now been separated and will at some point in the future merge again. He also put out Ananda Coomaraswamy’s vision of a modern and scientific west fusing with a spiritual and traditional east. Mr Claman called these theories “false dichotomies.” The professor also dismissed the common notion that Indian music is based on melody while Western music is based on harmony.

“It wasn’t fusion, but total confusion.” These were the words spoken by a Carnatic musician after performing a fusion concert. Claman attributed the confusion to the lack of preparation and practice before most fusion concerts. This can have disastrous results. Carnatic concerts need no rehearsal as all the artists know most of the kritis. It is the same in Jazz where artistes know the major works and therefore have the scope to improvise. However in a fusion concert, the artists don’t know each other's standard pieces, and each therefore needs to spend time learning, understanding and practising the other system...

One of the first fusion releases was by Shakti founded by L Shankar and John McLaughlin. Their collaboration was a success as each artiste trained in the other’s style of music. Claman says you can notice the differences in each person’s style, yet they combine seamlessly. Claman played a song from ‘the Shakti album in raga Chalanatai to demonstrate this point. He said that Jazz and Rock artists look at the scale of Chalanatai as a pentatonic scale with added ‘chromatic passing tones’ used to seamlessly slide between tones. These passing tones are given less importance by the jazz performers. Shankar took it as a heptatonic scale and improvised. Thus the artistes improvised and their approaches to the scale were different in ways that reflect their musical backgrounds. They skilfully combined the two systems because they had knowledge of each others systems and we can still distinctly tell the difference between the two styles. Another great experimenter was the legendary Jazz trumpeter, Miles Davis, Mr Claman noted in passing.

Mr Claman concluded by playing snatches from the music of the Madras String Quartet led by V.S. Narasimhan, Bombay Jayashri with Eero Hameenniemi and Guitar Prasanna with Vijay Iyer. He said that these artists look very promising in the area of fusion music. The most important message of the presentation was that collaborators in fusion efforts must spend some years together playing, improvising, listening and learning each other’s music, in order to be taken seriously.

Overall it was very enjoyable but very different from the normal Music Academy lecdem. I also loved the way Mr Claman peppered his talk with Tamil words here and there.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Carnatic circus

Chennaiyil Thiruvaiyaru
By Sukanya Sankar
I have read and heard time and again from regular concertgoers on concert hall etiquette. Most of the usual complaints  in terms of in-concert behaviour are on calling out the wrong raga name, instructing your drivers to go home and these days of course fidgeting you’re your smartphones, tweeting and texting your OMG reactions on the concert. But my experience yesterday at a Ranjani–Gayatri concert at Chennaiyil Thiruvaiyaru at Kamaraj Hall was totally intimidating.
The hall itself is not suited for classical concerts. The bad sound system didn’t help much either; in fact it just increased the echo so much that rasikas seated in the middle and back of the hall had a feeling that they were sitting in a cave in Thiruvaiyaru!
So in this cave we have the volunteers chatting on the aisles and auctioning lucky draw tickets, kids running all around, the audience eating chips and some feeble shabashes and bales.
The whole series is sponsor/ television orchestrated. There is nothing wrong in sponsoring and recording classical concerts, but not to the point of annoying the artist and the audience. Vijay TV had mammoth crane cameras which kept moving overhead and also stopped working in the middle of B U Ganesh Prasad’s rendition. Mayhem resulted and he was asked to stop playing. Vijay TV had a cameraperson on stage, seated with his back to the artists and focusing on the audience. He was also seen running up and down the stage and moving the water bottles obstructing his view through the lens. Twelve sponsor screens were embedded in a “palace” backdrop and the centre screen was flashing right through the concert. If Vijay TV want to telecast a classical concert, why can’t they have a sponsored programme in their studio?
Ranjani-Gayatri were in great form and setting up a platform such as this was total injustice to them. Was I at fault to go and listen to a concert other than in the Music Academy and the various Gana Sabhas? Are we building an audience that understands what concert etiquette means? Or are we just interested in spreading art around? The only way to end such practices is for the artists to refuse to perform if the atmosphere is not right. But will they ever do it? Chennaiyil Thiruvaiyaru was more like Thiruvaiyaril Chennai.

Santhanagopalan, Sudha Rani in good form

By SV Venkateshwaran
The Music Academy
19 December 2012

Neyveli Santhanagopaln’s morning concert on 19th December was one of the best I have heard  so far this season.

His raga alapana , niraval and swara kalpana for Muthuswami Dikshoitar’s Ramanatham bhajeham in Kasiramakriya and Tyagarajas Everichirara in Madhyamavati had the listeners glued to their seats. The ground floor was almost full when he started Kasiramakriya and remained full till the end.

Santhanagopalan’s voice limitations disappeared before his aesthetic display of his vidwat, bhava and imagination. He emphatically established the point that in a Carnatic music concert, a singer’s voice need not go to to high altitudes to engage, sustain and lift the listener’s  interest  to great heights. His ex-tempore explorations in all facets of manodharma were such that he did not have time to render the scheduled ragam-tanam-pallavi in Dwijavanhi.

The concert is best described as sukham, soukhyam and sundaram. It however had a drishti. The rapid twists and turns up and down required for proper rendering of Nenendu veda kutura in Karnatakabehag proved too much for his vocal chords.

In Mandha Sudha Ranis concerts, we can expect melody, variety, novelty and blemishlessness and no awkwardness. We cannot expect great heights of ecstasy, or high altitude niraval and swara travels.  In her concert at the Academy, as our expectations were met, we can state that she gave a highly satisfactory performance.

Her opening items were brief alapanas of Aarabhi and Khamas followed by Narasimha mamava (Swati Thirunal) and Seetapate (Tyagaraja) respectively, both not heard very often these days. Then came the raga alapana of the 67th mela raga Sucharitam and the kriti Chintayami santatam highlighting the life and works of Muthuswami Dikshitar. The main raga of the evening was Sankarabharanam (Akshayalinga vibho. This was followed by a ragam-tanam-pallavi in Hamsanandi.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Impressive trio



Bhavana Iyer (vocal), Kaushik Sivaramakrishnan (violin) and Ranjani Venkatesh (mridangam) acquitted themselves creditably in a concert of considerable saukhyam on 17 December at the Music Academy. The young musicians did themselves and their gurus proud.

Padams and javalis in the Telugu devadasi tradition


By Siddhartha Jagannath

The Music Academy
19 December 2012

The first lecdem on Wednesday, titled “Padam and Javali Renditions in some Telugu Devadasi traditions”, was presented by Ms Yashoda Thakore from Hyderabad. She was accompanied by Daniel who sang while Ms Thakore explained and danced during the demos. 

Yashoda Thakore said that the courtesan was a big part of elite cultural life in colonial south India in the 18th and 19th centuries.  In the Madras Presidency the flow of artistic practices was continuous between cultural hubs like Tanjavur, Madras and zamindari samasthanas like Karvetinagaram, Eluru and Gadwaan. The dance and music repertoires which became embedded in localised practices were often from pre-existing practices and taste habits present in a particular region. 

She said that dance and its music had a long history in the Telugu coastline area. The repertoire of these Telugu dance performances included varnams of Karvetinagaram Govindasami Aiya, salam jatis and sabdams of the Maratha courts of Tanjavur, javalis from the colonial Madras city and some varnams of the Tanjavur quartet. She cited evidence provided by the work Abhinaya Svayambodhini of Devulupalli Veeraraghavamurti Shastri. She gave an example of a javali of Patnam Subramania Iyer in raga Khamas which was composed in colonial Madras but performed extensively in the Telugu abhinaya tradition. 

Yashoda Thakore then played a beautiful recording of Chitoor Subramania Pillai singing his own javali Madhura nagarilo. Daniel performed the same piece as it was used in the Telugu style of dance in which the mood and tempo had been changed. It was quite humorous to listen to this version. It contained emphasised suffixes to Madhura nagarilo such as Madhura nagarilo ayyo.

Yashoda Thakore and Daniel performed some padams for which she danced while he sang.  She briefly noted that padams were performed sitting down with hand gestures and facial abhinaya. She also demonstrated a javali - Atavaru nannu piluva. She ended her lecdem by touching upon the meaning of pandrayitu, which means an abstract dance performed as a finale. 
           
Though I know almost nothing about dance and struggled to write this report, I thoroughly enjoyed Ms Yashoda Thakore’s lecdem and look forward to many more like it.           

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Veena Seshanna's tillanas

By Siddhartha Jagannath

The Music Academy
Chennai, 18 December 2012

Prof Mysore V Subramanya, a grandson of Veena Seshanna, presented a lec-dem on the tillanas of Seshanna, accompanied on the veena by Prof Rajalakshmi Tirunarayanan and Ratna Prabha, who demonstrated the tillanas. 

In his introduction, Subramanya said Seshanna, a disciple of the legendary Mysore Sadasiva Rao, had composed seventeen tillanas, while working in the court of Mysore during the reign of Chamarajendra Wodeyar. The demonstration began with a tillana in raga Kedaram, followed by tillanas in many other ragas like Kalyani, Sankarabharanam, Hindustani Kapi (which to me was the best), Darbari Kanada, Khamas, Behag and ending with the popular tillana in Chenchurutti. Between two pieces, Subramanya introduced the tillana to follow. He said that Seshanna used the mudra ‘Sesha’. 

There are unmistakable western music influences, especially in the Kalyani and Khamas tillanas. The tillanas are written in Telugu, although the sahitya part in the tillana is brief and found only in the last charanam.

R. Vedavalli commented that the beautiful jatis in tillanas can be clearly heard only in vocal music as opposed to the veena. She also said that janta prayogas—a hallmark of Seshanna—usually suit only certain ragas, but Veena Seshanna cleverly manages to use these prayogas in any raga (as in Khamas) and makes them work for the composition. Dr MB Vedavalli pointed out the unique veena plucking style of the Mysore school and pointed out the Hindustani and Western influences in the Mysore school. These tillanas she said are melody oriented and hence more suited for music concerts than dance performances.

There was more demonstration than lecture, which was great, as there is no better way of beginning your day than with the sounds of the veena. Seshanna tillanas on a veena duet was a bonus this morning. The two vainikas left the audience spellbound with their flawless veena playing.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Pitch battle

By ARS Mani

‘Namaskaram.’

‘Namaskaram,’ replied the musician in a low voice and said ‘Please come closer’.

That’s what the rasikas may have to do to hear him singing in his concerts. Is that the reason some rasikas prefer to sit on the stage? I kept my thoughts to myself.

‘The season is already up and running.  How is it going for you?’

‘Gathering momentum,’ he said. Much like the Indian cricket team trying to find the momentum against England, I thought. ‘I am giving 15 concerts this season’, he said.

‘Good luck,’ I said and what I did not say was: Better luck to the rasikas.

‘I was at your concert yesterday.’

‘Oh! Did you attend? How did you like it?’ I gave long pause. Perhaps he understood that I did not want to be rude to him.

‘You know it was only my second concert. Voice is yet to settle down fully. It should get better in the coming days.’

‘Are you taking enough precautions with what you eat and where you eat?’

‘Yes, to some extent. I am consuming plenty of ayurvedic medicines. I should be fine.’

The fact is he struggled to reach even the ‘Sa’ in the mel sthayi. He hardly ventured beyond.  Would he really get through the season, I wondered.

‘You see the unseasonal rain is causing havoc. Madras is so polluted that a light drizzle is enough to cause a big damage to the voice’.

‘You are building up nicely,’ I said. Whether he understood my sarcasm or not, I was not sure!

‘You see, even the cool cricket captain is in hot waters demanding doctored pitches’.

‘Can you do something similar? Ask for external help?’

‘That’s a 22 yards cricket pitch. This is a 22 mm vocal pitch. Gallons of hot water and strips of medicines give some relief, but they cannot alter the true nature of the voice’.

‘Underprepared cricket pitches are very helpful according to Dhoni. Can’t you try something like that?’

‘What do you mean by that?’

‘Maybe you should reduce your practice sessions’, I said hesitantly.

‘When I have 15 concerts to perform, do you think I have time for practice?’

That might be the reason, I thought.  Like an out of form batsman struggling to find his timing, musicians without practice find it hard to find their range. ‘Maybe there is a solution to your pitch problem’, I said.

‘Any new system of medicine?’ he asked eagerly.

‘Musicians, these days, are techno-savvy. Is it not possible to outsource the pitch?’ I said, seriously, without making eye contact.

He got my message and said apologetically, ‘You see we do our best. It is our sincere intention to give a quality concert each time we ascend the stage’.

I said, ‘I am Sorry. I did not mean to hurt you. I promise you, I will attend your concerts as much as I can,’ and took leave of him.

For his sake and for the sake of rasikas, I hope he finds his voice range before the end of the music season like Dhoni who hoped (in vain) to find a square turner before the end of the Test series against England.

More to the point, I hope it will not be as painful for rasikas as it is for cricket fans watching Tendulkar bat.

Generating gamakas digitally

By Siddhartha Jagannath

The Music Academy
Chennai, 17 December

The lean and unassuming Mr. M Subramanian delivered the first lec-dem today, on how we can synthesise Carnatic music (with gamakas) on a computer. 

Mr. Subramanian, who seemed to be well versed in Carnatic music, has designed a software package called the Gaayaka program.  You enter notation in the form of “sa, ri, ga” and so on,  and the computer can play it back in veena or flute tones.  The program is available for free.

The key innovation is the way Mr. Subramanian has incorporated the gamakam in Gaayaka. He has painstakingly given the user options to have continuity between notes, control transition times and control the note durations. In order to achieve these nuances the user has to write detailed notations (in an array of parentheses and other symbols) to represent brief anuswarams. But to a casual user, Gaayaka provides gamakas of most of the common ragas which can be directly copied and pasted without too much fuss.

Mr. Subramanian spoke of the many software tools that help the computer play the notes typed. Unfortunately, this only works for western music. Western music does not have any gamakas so the software doesn’t have to be very complicated. Also such software works with staff notation, which most Indians cannot read. Also, in Carnatic music gamakas the anusvaras are so fast that they cannot be written with three dashes underneath them. For this purpose he uses parentheses. For representation of octaves one or more letters are made into a capital letter. For example - the swara “ma” in the lower octave is typed as “mA,” in the middle octave as “ma” and in the higher octave as “Ma.” 

Mr. Subramanian acknowledged that the system was not perfect due to the inherent nature of our music. Gamakas of a particular  note can vary according to the raga and the prayoga. Different banis use gamakas differently. Notations that exist in books today are purely an aid to the musician who fills up the gamakas, making adjustments for rhythm and inserting silences where required. 

Gaayaka was demonstrated for certain common gamaka-oriented ragas like Kalyani, Sankarabharanam and Begada. Subramanian showed pitch graphs of gamakas and even compared them with the pitch graphs of a typical western symphony. He talked about the difficulty in producing notation for typical phrases in a raga of Carnatic music. The program prepares a gamaka definition file for each raga. For each note the program generates a “context string” with information on duration, direction, octave, previous and next note etc.  Subramanian elaborated on these features with numerous examples.     

The software seems versatile as it follows our current system of notation in Carnatic music. The user can choose the tempo and the mela. There is also a tala feature and the option of adding a background tambura. We can save in the “.wav” format as well. We can also play two notes without a break. In this software, grouping of notes is very important. If we do not do this properly, the song when played will not be recognizable. 

If the melam of the notation written is changed then the types of swaras will change automatically. If a song we have typed has one plain note but has to be broken for sahitya purposes, that can also be done. For “synthetic” ragas like Latangi we can combine the ragas Kalyani and Pantuvarali. Mr. Subramanian took the time to demonstrate all this on his computer using ragas like Begada and Pantuvarali.  

The lecture demonstration clearly reminded us of the pros and cons of the textual tradition in Carnatic music, a topic discussed at length and compared with the oral tradition on the previous day at Kasturi Hall.  Listening to all the complexities of such a computer system, the audience felt that it showed great courage on Mr. M. Subramanian’s part to embark on such a mission so rife with obstacles. As a member of the audience said during the Q&A, even landing on the moon was once such an unthinkable task, but a giant step for humanity was made. Mr. M. Subramanian is close to being an octogenarian, but he still has the enthusiasm of a youngster to surmount the insurmountable. 

(Schoolboy music student Siddhartha Jagannath is our youngest contributor)

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Trinity in peril

By Bala Shankar

The Carnatic music world is moving so fast that the Trinity is in danger of obsolescence. Modern day concerts are setting new patterns of what they offer – a huge surge in ‘popular’ songs, mostly construed in the 20th century by anyone (that’s right – anyone) and tuned by another such person. This is peppered with a few classic songs – usually only in the first quartile segment of the concert – Saint Tyagaraja’s contribution of songs with verve that set a concert alight are still to be beaten! Dikshitar and Syama Sastry are special guests invoked once in a while on stage. The craving for “Tamilization”, ease of assimilation for an uninitiated audience, limited need for guru-led teaching, no pathantara dharma, novelty appeal and a ‘trend-setting’ sensation may have propelled what I would call a “drift”.

Instead of arguing against these (which maybe futile as the debate is not so much about the merits of the songs or the creators), we may reflect on what made the Trinity’s music great and sustained it for over 300 years, without recordings or even written notations. They are vaggeyakaras, for one. They composed the lyrics and tuned them. Subramania Bharati is a great poet, not a vaggeyakara. There are multiple tunes for Kakkai siraginile as everyone knows. O Rangasayee, Chakkani rajamargamu, Akshayalinga vibho or Bangaru Kamakshi are like renaissance paintings – grand, artistic, spiritual (bhakti is intrinsically woven), pregnant with meaning, music and language, all in perfect synchrony and above all, created almost miraculously (and with divine help, for sure) from a life-long dedication to mastery of all the components – not just the lyric or the tune or rhythm. It will be a pity if a perpetual cycle of gradual de-emphasis on Trinity songs over the years, robs the new musicians and the listeners of a great inner experience. Perhaps a full circle is nearing and we will soon have Trinity series (as opposed to non-Trinity series that have gained popularity in the last decade).

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Kudiyattam lec-dem a revelation

By Siddhartha Jagannath
The Music Academy
Chennai, 17 December.

The lecdem by Sri Rama Chakyar on the musical aspect (vachikam) of Kudiyattam an ancient art form from Kerala made me understand for the first time the saying Kavyeshu natakam ramyam. Rama Chakyar and his troupe have preserved this tradition of Sanskrit theatre and proved to us that the saying indeed holds good. They also showed us the true meaning of “sangeetam” as viewed by a typical 12th century rasika (geetam vadyam tatha nrityam sangeetam uchyate.).

The performers were a group of artists from Kerala, and the main artist a pious exponent of Kudiyattam. He was accompanied by two younger men named Sangeet Chakyar, a dancer, and Sajit Vijayan, a mizhavu player. The gentleman who explained the art form in a calm tone was a person  aptly named Kaladharan.

Kaladharan who explained the art form in a calm voice started by touching upon the history of Kudiyattam. The earliest we can date Kudiyattam, he said, was to the 11th century, although he believes it has been alive for many  hundreds of  years before that. The earliest works found are two plays by king Kulashekara Varman. He credited the brahmins of Kerala for having preserved this artform. Kaladharan said that Kudiyattam performers usually presented only Sanskrit plays by poets of the calibre of Kalidasa and Bhasa. The troupe then presented the vachika aspect of the art. 

When Kaladharan spoke of the ragas of Kudiyattam, I expected Carnatic style ragas to emerge, but to my surprise found that Chakyar recited verses with the three svaras: udatta, anudatta and svarita and with different combinations of duration (similar to hrasva, dirgha, and pluta). Later, Kaladharan explained that these ragas could not be identified with Carnatic or Hindustani ragas. They probably have their roots in the Sama Veda. He said that that these ragas could at best be called swarams. As Dr. Ramanathan later added, the ragas in Kudiyattam are based almost entirely on the rasa which is to be conveyed to the audience and not at all on any technical aspects of music as we know it. The rasa (like soka, raudra or veera) that the artist was trying to depict was evident just from the recitation by Chakyar.

Soon the actual demonstration began. It started with Rama Chakyar demonstrating a sloka in the raga Sri Kanti (this raga is normally sung at the beginning like a mangala raga) from a play of Kulashekara Varman. Kaladharan said that this was a normal way of recitation with no emphasis on any particular bhava. The next item was a verse in the raga “Veeratharka” from the “Abhisheika Natakam” of the poet Bhasa. This raga brings out the roudra rasa. 

They then moved on to a sloka from the Naganandam play of Sri Harsha in raga Arthan. This sloka brings out the sringara rasa. They presented yet another sloka on sringara rasa from the Abhisheka Nataka of Bhasa. Kaladharan stated that the raga Kora Kurunji was used when the vanaras were speaking. One of the best ragas was Dukha Gandharam which brought out sorrow. The way Rama Chakyar shook his cheeks and quivered his voice was simply fantastic. The verse had been extracted from a work by the name of Ascharya Choodamani. 

Verbal acting, Kaladharan said, was of three types. They were moolal or humming, padal or singing and slokam or recitation. These three were done by women behind the curtain. All these were demonstrated swiftly and fluently by Rama Chakyar. The slokas performed here as an example were from Mattavilasam by Mahendra Pallavan.

Now on to the stage came Sangeet Chakyar and Sajit Vijayan to demonstrate the angika and satvika aspects of the art in Veeratharka raga. Sangeet had every square micrometer of his perfect body under his control. The way he vibrated his cheeks was astounding. I had no idea we even had so many muscles in the cheek! He had every sinew under his command and his erect posture made me aware of my own crumbling posture as I struggled to sit upright in those cosy chairs of the Kasturi Hall. His back glistened with sweat as he shook. 

Unlike dancers of popular dance forms that we see today, he had no embelishments like anklets, makeup, fancy costumes or jewellery. His bloodshot eyes with minimal eye make-up, his square shoulders and hand movements were all that was needed to bring out the sentiment he was intending to project.          

Sajit Vijayan accompanied Sangeet Chakyar on the beautiful pot-like drum called the Mizhavu. He too seemed fit like a Kudiyattam dancer with his hands beating the drum effortlessly. Kaladharan explained that the two main talas used in this system of art were Champada (Adi) and Adanda (Misra Chapu). Then it was Sajjit Vijayan’s turn to do a solo, akin to a tani avartanam.  A thoroughly enjoyable tani was performed by Vijayan although it was brief. 

(Schoolboy and music student Siddhartha Jagannath is our youngest contributor).